When I first moved into the flat, around two weeks ago now, I was so disappointed to find that my local supermarket was a Lidl. I associated Lidl with bad lighting and worse bad ingredients. I have since found a Rewe about a 15 minute walk away. But when I find that I am in a pickle because I am short on say…pickles. I pop down to Lidl, which is literally 1 block down.
It appeals to the hunter gatherer in me because I never know what I will find? Or where I will find it? Their fruit and vegetables are spectacularly fresh but the range that they carry is by no means consistent. What I find one week, I won’t necessarily find the next.
On this particular day, my “finds” included some gorgeous radishes, fennel and Romaine lettuce. Perfect for a salad, I picked up some black forrest ham to turn a the salad into a main course (knowing that I had some cheese at home that I could also add).
I love fennel when it’s thinly shaved. It’s a perfect candidate for the mandolin. I used to work with a Chef in London (who has now gone on to earn a Michelin star – you know who you are : )) When I say work, I mean, I was on the shop floor and he was in the kitchen. But it was an open kitchen so that clients (and staff) could watch the chefs at work.
Except it was just Chef at work at the time as we were understaffed and four Mongolian guys who were supposed were just pot wash – named Otto, Degi, Degi’s brother Baggi and the good looking one Zorig (who I thought was called Zurich for about 6 months!). Otto was huge – over 6 foot and as big as a door. Degi was shorter than me (I am 5 feet 4 inches) and his brother Baggi was somewhere between the two. Zorig on the other hand was over 6 foot, built like a swimmer and blond. Zorig knew he was easy on the eye and used to change out of his kitchen clothes in the office, instead of the changing rooms. I can’t remember anyone complaining though…?
Deggi was the brains behind the whole operation. The small ones usually are – aren’t they? Napoleon, comes to mind or a yappy Chiuaua vs a subdued St. Bernard. And he was the only one who spoke some English so everything went through him.
Chef only had to show Degi something once and then the four of them would nail it. They were the kings of the mandolin, shaving mountains of vegetables until there was only a milimeter left, without the guard, not looking down, all the while chit chatting in Mongolian. They never sliced a finger – although I have seen plenty of chefs take off bits of finger on that contraption – it just makes them love it more – of course.
There is more than just the macho aspect to this instrument though. How you cut something totally effects its flavour. A chunk of fennel is a totally different creature to a thin crispy sliver of fennel. And it’s a lot more elegant. Before I totally get lost on this mandolin tangent – consider getting one and if you do, buy a Japanese one – not the silly cumbersome overpriced things they sell in department stores that will take up a whole cupboard.
Ham and cheese summer salad (serves 2 as a starter)
4 pieces of black forrest ham (or parma ham)
1 Romaine lettuce (washed and torn into bite sized pieces)
100g of hard cheese cubed (I used a German version of Emental)
3 radishes (thinly sliced)
1/2 a head of fennel (thinly sliced)
2 teaspoons of balsamic vinegar
5 teaspoons of olive oil
- Place the slices of ham between two sheets of greaseproof paper on a baking tray and then weigh down with another tray. Place in a pre-heated oven (180 C) for 10 – 15 minutes. Check them after 10 minutes and keep in mind the road from soggy to burnt to an ember is a fast one!
- Cut the cheese into 1 cm cubes.
- On a mandolin, thinly slice the fennel. Then put the fennel in a bowl of ice water. This really crisps up the fennel. Repeat with the radishes.
- Put the dressing ingredients in a squeezy bottle (I love my squeezy bottle!) or a jar and shake vigorously until the dressing emulsifies.
- Tear the ham up into shards.
- Layer the salad up starting with the Romaine lettuce, then alternate between the rest of the ingredients.